[Here's part 4 of B.N.'s story]
If You Lick My Heart You Would Die Of Poison
The house was on tree lined well-tended quiet street in Cambridge. It was narrow and creamily quaint in the last moments of daylight. The wooded twin doors were huge, heavy. Inez blinked in the entranceway. On the table was a half a glass of ice tea with mostly melted ice—she looked around for the owner. A shirt was draped over a chair with a tie. There were fruit bowls the color of mercury—fluid shapes filled with bright citrus. There was a note on the side table under the gilt mirror—Call Adelstein back.
Julian stood in the doorway of the bedroom and when Inez turned around he was unbuttoning his shirt. It wasn’t unexpected, hadn’t it been hoped for, in part why she came. With his finger her traced her collarbone and laid his head on her shoulder.
“Its been a long time, I’m sorry you’re unhappy,” she thought he said.
“Do you remember the first time, at my parents house, my mothers bed?” he asked.
She remembered her apartment, a day at the lake, in the stacks late at night in the library. His mother’s house?
“We were alone, nobody home,” Julian said.
“Put on the dress, leave your underwear off, that dress is so lovely on you.” He sighed and said softly. Julian slides his hands over the dress and then under. “Lie back” he whispered.
“Don’t forget you need to call Adelstein,” she said before they were too far along. Then he pulled her down to the bottom of the bed and positioned her legs on his shoulders. His forearms looked sculpted and elegant. She was grateful he wanted the dress, such a kindness for him to not expect her now after so long to stand or even lie naked.
She must have drifted off to sleep. For an instant she could not remember where she was. The cocoon-like softness of unfamiliar sheets against her skin. She dreamt of the Rabbi, several in fact bearded in black hats and frock coats. They were shouting at her to jump. She was standing on a ledge with granite angels on either side of her. What had awakened her? The fear of falling. Voices? From where, the kitchen? The hall outside her room?
“Just go if you said you were going.” She was sure she heard that. The voice was rubbery and bounced in her range of awareness. Like when she was a child tugged out of bed in the middle of the night holding the frayed end of her parents' hushed voices behind the closed door. Out in the hall standing only in a robe she found hanging in the closet.
“Does it mean anything? Why? You always do this.”
“Can’t it wait?” she heard Julian’s voice trail off. She heard the rush of tap water.
“Patrick is going to be here any minute.”
“So just go”
Then. “Hallo—anybody home? Come out come out wherever you are.”
She heard a door close at the front of the house. Inez went back into the room and sat on the bed and then quickly, blessedly fell back asleep. Again she was on a ledge of the very high building. So high that now she could see into the windows of planes as they flew past. She could see the confused terrified expressions on the passengers’ faces, mouthing words to her. She was trying to read their lips, but could not make out what they were saying. The granite angels were crying, tear stained, and a lone tiny Rabbi very far below was gesturing at her to jump.
In the morning she awoke early to the sound of water moaning through the pipes. Julian stepped out into the hall wrapped in a towel and shook his mane like a lion emerging onto a riverbank. In the small guestroom Inez took the dress from the closet and held it against her body—letting it fall, just so against her shins. She closed her eyes, in gratitude, in prayer, in fear. After all these years there was still possibility. Julian had insisted, insisted that she get that dress.
Light from the bay window was just starting to seep into the living room. She picked up a framed photograph from the piano. Julian and somebody blurry in sun glasses, the Taj Mahal in the background. “Oh India last Fall, that flesh color spot— Claude. Julian startled her— had he been sitting in the chair all night?
“What a nightmare, a hell hole, animals in the street, huge crowds, heat, smells, I got so uncomfortable that I just left the whole continent and went to sit in rainy Amsterdam to medicate and attend my stomach cramps with modern plumbing. Claude stuck it out—All that local color—he even went trekking. The Sherpa would have had to carry me to base camp and back. He clamed to have a good time.”
Over the years Inez constructed Claude in her mind in several ways. Claude, poor old, good old, hope-against-hope Claude. He had been an adjunct since their first week of school freshman year. She remembered how he appeared in the dorm hallway holding an imported beer and wearing a mock colligate outfit—a blue and gold University sweat shirt, chinos, right down to the brown deck moccasins with no socks.
How was it Claude ended up there, now it seemed he had always been there, or nearby, waiting in the hall, on the library steps, in front of restaurants?— she had to force herself back to the chronology—there was law school at Columbia, then the opportunity at the Kennedy School, like his father and brother, also clerking for a judge—something had happened, was it a scandal or a heartbreak? Then a job at firm in a high glass tower—paper in, paper out.
Julian had the house, huge. Suddenly, the crazy Vera left him with baby Miranda, gone so fast there was not even a vapor trail. She recalled that in New York, nightly Claude would fold himself like an origami swan into the small jeweled, velvet lined lacquered box that was his apartment.
“Move to Brooklyn” she would tell him. Brooklyn is the new Manhattan—No, he wanted to see himself reflected in the dilated pupils of so many men like himself. Then poof—Vera was gone—like a gate opened wide. He saw it as a sign—so mistaken, it was a sign—that Vera was very very unstable. No, he wasn’t crazy. At times Julian seemed responsive— sure there were women too of course but everybody had those, well almost everybody. Claude thought with time Julian would settle the matter and Claude would be the settlement. Oh god how absurd his imaginings must have been in retrospect, coupling, partnership, Julian—whatever it would have looked like or been called. How long did it take him to realize that Julian was, let’s say, limited in his partnership potential and abilities in human interaction? Well, once he was there not that long, but longer than it should. Julian was content, more than content with a good fuck every so often but even those become sad, torn down often drunk exchanges. Oh the mornings, pure hell. What did she remember? Claude had told her years ago that when he had called, Julian’s voice was etched with something dark—shock maybe.
So earnestly Claude had said “I’m worried” and with that took her into his confidence in her at a dinner in Queens, “really he can’t handle an infant alone” then Claude pulled out of his brief case a copy of Your Infant, Your Toddler, Your Child—“good stuff in here” he said. She said not a word.
In truth, Claude at twenty seven did not need to be offered twice— As far as she knew what Julian had said was, “Yes a large back room, just till you get your own place—I have room, 15 to be exact—know how to change a diaper.”
Nothing ever happened—well of course some things happened sometimes but it never became the blossoming flower Claude had hoped for and neither did it crawl away to die. After time Claude was forced to think that maybe Julian was content to fill his clients lives with articles confiscated from people with inner lives. Maybe Julian was his own best client. Sometime, rarely, Claude still imagined that there was a chamber of Julian’s heart filled with shadows like photographic negatives—the image is in the absence of the image—a perfect celadon bowl, a mortar and pestle, two young men. Then for many years there was Miranda sucking her thumb—“ducky ducky,” Claude would quack as he toweled her freshly washed hair. Julian off someplace buying something to place on someone’s shelf or wall. Still some hope. But there were the photos of little Miranda—a bobble head infant all tipsy and fat. She looked so much like her mother Vera in dark complexion and the black eyes, but had Julian’s bone structure. No Claude there.
Little Miranda pranced like a trained pony in and out of rooms. Her manicured nails clicking out everything she wanted and all her parents’ failings on some invisible table. Her forearms stacked with thin bangles that clicked and clanked with every wave of her hand.
No doubt it was a bad time, maybe the worst for Claude to just bow out. He could smell the smoke on Miranda’s hair and clothes see her bloodshot eyes. He knew she was tearing it up with sullen neck tattooed boys that hunched waiting across the street or in the park. What he wanted to do or say was not even possible. He had watched Julian turn into more of hoax each year. “Julian, you are a fraudulent honking goose, a condensing puff of bad breath.” The silent pantomime of waiting first for Vera to return to sanity, then for the right woman and then filling in the gaps. Now, it was rare that Claude remembered what it had been like when it seemed to be close to perfect. What he understood is that perfect leads to nothing.
Nobody would have called it innocent at Julian's parents large white house while they were away. They were just twenty and had been drinking. Music was blasting Van Morrison from a stereo downstairs and they were in of all places Julian’s mother’s bedroom. Claude had maneuvered the whole weekend into being like a master strategist. By Saturday afternoon Julian came all over his mother’s bedspread and again on the green velvet settee and against Claude’s neck. Then, not a word was spoken about his mother’s bedroom, or Claude’s apartment or the motel rooms. No more strategies were ever needed. Ah be careful what you wish for.
Claude let go his expectations like a kite string. The back of the house was enough for him. As for Miranda, she could not remember her parents “together” nor even imagine it. Summer visits, airports, tickets, that whole rigmarole. All those times her father was away on buying trips. Claude had read her Madeline, privately she used to imagine getting sick in the middle of the night and being rushed, wrapped in a blanket, to the hospital. And then walking after a very dangerous surgery to her parents—worried, smiling, loving. Real parents, not these misshapen creatures that try to reach out towards her like lurching ghouls in some old movie. Her parents were both such hypocrites—sad, really. Her mother running around with a pack of Euro trash half her age—all claiming to be political. Whatever. Then she stopped taking care of herself—poof, she would walk around in sweatpants and gray tee shirts, 3 to a pack, that were so long they fell mid thigh. Her hair hung in thin strings around her yellowing face. Her mother seemed to be shrinking. Miranda almost pleaded with her at times, to wear something else. All the hair on her legs and armpits. It got to the point that she could never bring a friend home. Her father with his good straight American teeth— who was he kidding, did he think she was an idiot?
The curtain lifts and the play begins.
Her father bringing a different woman to every possible occasion, and some not so possible occasions. All so hopeful, with their cute ears pitched forward like little forest bunnies—pick me, pick me, they cried silently and in unison.
The way she saw it after smoking some of her new stash of loud, and what she told her friend Rena when they were hanging out in her bedroom last week was that her parents were like her hamsters—sniffing and scratching rodents. They did ridiculous things, anybody could see that. For example that guy Alex that her mother brought home, OMG he was half her age and wanted to “protect,” “save” whom? From what? Seals, snowy owls. What he really wanted was to stand naked in his black ankle socks while her mother held him and stroked his hair. For real, that’s what he wanted—all he wanted. Next time mom you may want to shut the door. The sad thing is her mother did not even . . . not an idea, not a clue. Oh that’s her mother. She cooked and preened for him until one day in the market she saw him—acting normal, laughing and juggling lemons for a young blonde girl.
When Julian opened the front door that morning of the wedding there was Adelstein lying on the matt. All over the morning paper—a lawsuit brought by his sisters, a pair of Gonerils with hair sculpted into king cobras’ mantles. Julian had been stocking their homes with expensive, rare and above all special objects, that if hadn’t been for how much they paid would have been more appreciated and better understood at the bottom of a well. The sisters were quoted as saying—it's not the money, but the principle—they looked like eels flashing the muddy bottom. Julian noted that some people, more that you would think, just don’t embarrass—as he read over the paper he wondered if they were so obtuse as to imagine anybody could ever mistake them as “principled” by any definition of the word. What was it Adelstein wanted?— or wanted more of, and how much would he pay? Julian left the paper on the kitchen table and went into his study. He picked up the black cordless phone, no, bad idea, he realized, still too early, could get touchy—he opted to email
Adelstein had undergone a recent religious awakening and wanted Judiaca. 18th century German and Holy Land antiquities. Did this correspond in any or all ways with his current “troubles”? The man could no doubt afford the Sarajevo Haggadah and he wanted menorahs—Kiddush cups that held a quart adorned with tumorous clusters of grapes, clay oil jars. It was better when he just wanted a floral still life by Degas or worse, cubist dancers—you know he said—those ballerinas. Are you fricken kidding me, Julian had thought. Julian ran his hand over the smooth cool of his own bent wood chair—so simple and perfect in design.
[Please check back for the story's conclusion tomorrow]